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  • Writer's pictureHannah Rathke

Learning to Share My Story

In today’s fast-paced, increasingly automated world, human connection is the currency of value. It is through shared story and experience that we build connection to one another. Stories matter. I believe everyone has a story and that we all need to be brave and courageous in sharing our stories.

For a long time I felt a pull to share my own. It was a feeling that I didn’t know what to do with. What did I really have to say or share? I would think, “I’m just a mother of two little boys, a wife, an ex-corporate career woman who made the decision to step away from a promising professional trajectory to be with my young family, trusting that my path would unfold in due course. This is hardly fodder for storytelling”. But I have come to realize that we all have things to share as we learn, grow and shift.

You see, I began a process of learning, growing and shifting as the labels of who I am and what I do were removed and I was left with just me. I have come to learn that the peace, freedom (and even joy!) of just being me is indeed worth writing about and can resonate with others.

We tell our children “just be yourselves” but getting to this point is both so simple and also a practice that can feel very difficult at times. For me it requires getting out of my head and sometimes physically stopping to feel where my heart is inside my body. It requires dropping into that heart space and breathing into it. It’s from that place that I access myself, free of the noise of perceived expectations, my ‘inner critic’ or the million other thoughts that can go zipping through my head. Basically, it’s the practice of being present. However, staying in this space is something that I need to work on every single day. Just the discovery of how to be present and move from ‘doing’ to ‘being’ has been a journey.

I could write about all my life chapters that took me from the prairies of Northern Alberta to Montreal to Hamburg, Germany and to Toronto. However, my story isn’t about the course that I charted, but rather the point along the way where I lost myself and how I found my way back. I was a creative child who could be swept away by writing, music and most of all my imagination and evolved into a young adult fascinated by language, culture (and European travel). Yet somehow I ended up post master’s degree as a consultant working long hours in downtown Toronto focused on the banking sector. I had just moved back to Canada from Germany and after a few months looking for the perfect job (and not finding any postings for Canadian/European cultural liaisons, German bakery connoisseurs, etc.) I opted to get experience with a globally known, big name consulting firm.

Growing up, I had always excelled in school, been a hard worker and was keen to receive the approval and praise that comes with achievement. Now, as a young woman starting my career, I knew I could succeed by pouring my full self in to whatever I was doing, not letting people down and showing tenacity to see tough situations through. As many women are, I was afflicted with the ‘disease to please’, even if it meant that I spent much of my days with adrenaline running through my veins and often deserted my heart space so that I could manage a tremendous amount of responsibility, data, people and pressure with my head. Fast-forward over a decade and several promotions later and I was still in that first job.

It isn’t that I didn’t enjoy aspects from this phase of life. I enjoyed problem solving for clients, collaborating with colleagues and being a mentor to more junior staff. As the years passed, I gained the ability to exude confidence even when I was uncertain and I had great faith in my ability to be ‘thrown into the deep end’ and find my way to the top for air. Basically, I became very good at masking any stress I was feeling. I was given tremendous opportunity and experienced incredible professional growth. However, my mind was relentlessly busy and I now realize that I was in a mindset of ‘doing’ instead of ‘being’.

As time progressed I found myself longing for more personal purpose and impact. Moments of human connection with clients and my mentees were very meaningful to me. I realized that I was a highly empathetic individual who cared deeply about people. I observed that people would share their stories with me and I knew that using written language to communicate an idea or feeling was something I had enjoyed my entire life. While it was fun for me as a child, it also made me an effective consultant as an adult. These moments would bring me back to my heart space and made me wonder if I was making the most of my true gifts.

I know that something began to shift when I became a mother. When I resumed work after my first child, compliments such as being referred to as a ‘workaholic’ stung and felt wrong. While small shifts were happening in me, I was still too lost in my old patterns of perfectionism and people pleasing and unable to see an alternative that felt more right.

And then the universe gave me my second child.

His arrival was fast and intense as though he knew we both needed each other and there was no more time to be wasted. It was only an hour or two from the time my contractions started to the time I was holding him in my arms, marvelling at the gift I had been given. However, precious gifts are sometimes wrapped in hardship, challenge and test of strength.

I’m very fortunate to have two healthy boys but my youngest son had a difficult start. He had extreme acid reflux, oral hypersensitivity and sensory processing challenges. During the first year and a half of his life, if he was awake, he was basically miserable. We couldn’t lay him down flat because of the reflux and my husband and I would split the nights holding him upright trying to console and soothe him. Amidst the feelings of utter exhaustion as I bounced a baby walking around my house in complete darkness, I felt a current running through me. I knew it was unconditional love and that my job was to be with and help him. At that time I didn’t realize that he would equally help me.

I made the decision to step away from my career in order to afford him the time and focus he needed. I knew I was very fortunate to be in the position to make that choice and be around to help him with the early occupational and speech therapy that helped him be the thriving child he is today. However, I grossly underestimated the profound impact that it would have on my identity to no longer have a profession to identify with. I would cringe when I would bump into old colleagues and they would ask me what my plan was. I didn’t know. All I knew was that I felt such immense love for my kids and that when I was with them I was totally in the moment. It’s very hard to be thinking of the past or the future when you have a crying baby and a toddler who needs something. I remember in that sleepless, difficult phase feeling as though I might crack, and perhaps I did. But perhaps cracking open was the best thing that could have happened to me. As per Leonard Cohen’s song lyrics, “There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in”.

As my youngest child improved, I began taking up the things I enjoyed when I was younger. I started writing again. I sang and played imaginatively with my kids. I saw the world through their eyes filled with wonder. I read the books that I was drawn to. I found time to just be still and be ‘me’.

I shared my experience with others and listened to their stories. I realized that my empathetic side is what makes me strong and that my creativity and love of language is a gift that I can share. Above all, I realized that I have a voice and that my thoughts and experiences matter.

Today I can see that I gained so much through each of my experiences that make me who I am today. When I decided to start my own business, I knew it was coming from that heart space. I know I can courageously speak about the things that move and matter to me and help others do the same. The lives we create start with the stories that we choose to tell. May all of our stories come from a place of self-worthiness and what is true to each of us.


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